Game's glamour fades for domestic stars left in limbo
BEING a top-flight footballer is supposed to be the thing of dreams, but the reality is very different for the more than 120 players out of contract in Ireland this winter.
Former Ireland U-21 international and Leeds United trainee Simon Madden dreamed big when he was younger, but at 23 he is facing a bleak winter of uncertainty.
Every day the former Dundalk defender is greeted by headlines filled with gloom as he contemplates another week on the dole, hoping that a manager picks up the phone and offers him a future.
In the meantime, he trains at the AUL complex by Dublin Airport at the sessions organised by the players' union, the PFAI, for those on the look-out for new clubs.
If no one rings, he'll be off to Norway to showcase his wares in the FifPro-organised tournament in December, when he'll hope to catch the eye of a scout or manager in attendance.
That's the future, the present reality is a million miles from the life he must have thought awaited him when he made his Leeds debut this time four years ago.
Football was supposed to be glamorous, but the reality for a top-flight footballer in Ireland is now very different. It is some reward. Madden might not be a household name, but he captained Dundalk for every minute of every game of last season.
That's 50 competitive matches. 4,500-plus minutes of unbroken action in a remarkable personal campaign leading a team who started well but eventually collapsed under the weight of injuries and speculation about the future of manager Ian Foster and the club itself.
Madden's thanks was to be let go. Loyalty has never been the League of Ireland's greatest strength, but now it appears it is dead and gone.
"You see players in England get contracts for three and four years so they give everything for the club and kiss the badge," he says. "But over here you could be kissing 12 badges throughout your career.
"You can't be loyal to any club. All you can do is if they treat you right, you treat them right. We needed a bit of loyalty back from the club as we were working hard and sometimes I don't think it was there."
Dundalk are one of a host of clubs whose future is up in the air as owner Gerry Matthews looks to relinquish control. Foster and the players have all left the club and Madden says they were kept in the dark for most of their disastrous run-in.
"We didn't have a clue what was going on towards the end of the season, the club never kept in touch with us really," he says. "We wanted to know what was going on. We had a meeting at the end of the season and Gerry Matthews was up front with us and said he wasn't sure what was happening. It's just the way it is in Ireland.
"Clubs don't have the finances and they don't know what budget they have next year. They can't offer contracts and there is no manager there.
"There is no way of building teams. We had a young team this season and it would have been nice to get them tied down and build on it for next year and look forward to it."
Having been over to England twice before -- he had a stint with Steve Staunton at Darlington between his spells with Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk -- Madden is open to a return.
"Anything can happen," he admits. "In the last few years you'd be waiting and there might be two offers then at the same time. You can be lucky that way, or you could wait until the first week of pre-season to find a club or get a phone call."
Until then, Madden and his colleagues play the waiting game.